Case Supervision: Developing Skills, Building Confidence & Sharpening Insight

Dr Mike Talbot Articles, Dr Mike Talbot

Spending most of your working day trying to resolve people’s conflict can be quite draining. And although us mediators can learn how not to get drawn into other people’s disputes, inevitably we can find that a little bit of the hostility, persecution, and ill-feeling between people can end up staying with us.

My own background is as a psychotherapist, and it is has been long recognised in that profession that practitioners are bound to need regular support for themselves: to offload and unwind, to check that their practice is on track, and to get feedback, support and challenge from someone in the role of a critical friend. For me, working as a mediator should be no different: consultative support or case supervision should be seen as an essential aspect of working as a practising mediator, and indeed a way to make sure that our practice is ethical, professional, and that our casework is not having any kind of undue personal impact.

Here at UK Mediation, we provide Case Supervision to practising mediators. This can be either to individuals or to mediator groups and panels, and usually in quarterly face-to-face sessions.

The aims and purpose of case supervision are threefold:

Support
Mediators are given an opportunity in supervision to present difficult or challenging aspects of their work, and to de-brief their casework in a safe environment. The offloading that is encouraged during supervision is an important aspect of maintaining the mediator’s well-being.

Ongoing development and training
Case supervision promotes the continuing professional development of the mediator. Patterns of issues may identify learning needs, which can be addressed in the supervision sessions. Sharing of expertise is encouraged in group sessions and the mediators are invited to bring prior skills or experiences that may be of help to other group members. While the supervisor is there principally to facilitate and not to train, he or she will occasionally provide input in order to address and identify training needs.

Monitoring and management
This part of the supervision function is to ensure that mediators are helped to maintain ethical and professional boundaries with disputing parties: ensuring that mediators are staying in the mediator role and not inadvertently drifting into other functions. This aspect of supervision helps to maintain safety and manage risk between the mediator and their service users.

Who takes it up?
Over the last twenty years, we have trained thousands of individual practitioners, as well as whole panels of in-house mediators. A lot of the groups that we have trained take up case supervision, usually by having a quarterly gathering of all their mediators. With some strict rules around confidentiality and disclosure, the mediators present their latest cases and share learning and best practice: gaining greater insight into the situations they have worked with, understanding how to develop what they do, and ensuring that ethical and professional standards are maintained.

Even people who are practising evaluative settlement conferencing, which is often referred to as ‘Civil Mediation’, might benefit from some form of one-to-one case management. And, although this kind of quasi-legal practice is not as personally demanding, I think there is still a need for monitoring to ensure that professional standards are maintained.

Can anyone provide case supervision?
I would suggest not, and I think there would be a significant risk involved in someone positioning themselves as a supervisor if they were ill-equipped to do so. Not wishing to exaggerate here, but when a supervisee feels quite understandably upset by some of the conflict situations that we mediators can some across, they do really need a supervisor who is properly trained, self-aware, and themselves well-grounded. Otherwise, we are in danger of doing more harm than good. Some of the mediators who I supervise work with families and individuals in fairly chaotic situations, and we constantly have to stay alert to potential safeguarding issues: both for service users and sometimes for the mediator themselves.

My own training as a supervisor was with Robin Shohet and Peter Hawkins, authors of ‘Supervision in the Helping Professions’*, often considered to be ‘the’ book and best practice model for all sorts of case supervisors, from psychotherapy, social work, and medical practice, to youth & community work, emergency services, management, and beyond. I supervised counsellors and therapists using this model for several years before coming into the mediation world, and part of my own doctoral work was to adapt Shohet & Hawkins’ supervision model for use in supervising mediators.

That is not to say that everyone has to come to me! I am aware of a number of set-ups around the UK and beyond where experienced mediators with the right personal qualities (and their own means of supervisory support) are providing supervision perfectly well. And I have also helped people to get set up with Peer Supervision: an arrangement where more experienced mediators get together as a peer group to share case work, learn from one another’s practice, and offer mutual support and challenge as a means of professional and personal development.

So, do we really need it?
Well, I can only talk from my own experience, which is that over the last twenty years of running UK Mediation, I have seen so many people who have begun as nervous mediation trainees, and through good case supervision and plenty of practice, have become mature, reflective, confident and professional mediators.

For me, supervision should be seen as a place for people to bring their experiences, good and bad, of working as mediators; to share learning from working with cases, to consider how to enhance their effectiveness, and to ensure that they are continuing to provide a professional, ethical and highly effective service.

Get in touch to find out more about organising our Case Supervisions. You can reach us on 0800 772 0778, or drop us an email at hello@ukmediation.net.

*Hawkins, P., Shohet, R., Ryde, J., & Wilmot, J. (2012) Supervision in the Helping Professions. Maidenhead, UK, Open University Press